G20 Labour Ministers must focus on young jobseekers


15/05/2012 - Young people continue to bear the brunt of the jobs crisis, with nearly 11 million 15 to 24 - year-olds out of work in OECD countries in early 2012. Youth unemployment in the OECD area in March 2012 was 17.1%, close to its November 2009 peak of 18.3%, according to new OECD data released in advance of the G20 Labour Ministers Meeting in Mexico on 17-18 May.

The new data show the radical shift in youth unemployment from before the crisis until now, comparing the trough to peak changes across countries. For example, in Spain, youth unemployment was 17.4% in March 2007 and had risen to 51.1% by March 2012.

Young European jobseekers are suffering the most in the OECD, with unemployment close to historic highs across the Continent. More than one in five young people in the labour market in France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Poland, Ireland and Italy are out of work.

Youth unemployment is more than double the unemployment rate affecting the general population across the OECD. In some countries such as Greece and Spain, it’s three times higher.

“Governments need to address this economic and social problem with decisive and concrete action,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. “My message to G20 Ministers in Guadalajara is that there are cost-effective ways to boost the employment prospects of youth, and that any fiscal consolidation strategy needs to be smart, growth-friendly and take care of future generations. We propose concrete and targeted policy action and investment in skills and education of the young to give them hope for a better future.”

Youth unemployment rates in OECD countries, December 2007 - March 2012         
Percentage of total youth labour force (15-24) 

The data is available here in Excel


The unemployment rate alone does not reflect the full picture, as many young people who have left education no longer appear in labour force statistics. At least 23 million young people in OECD countries are neither in education, employment or training - so-called NEETs – more than half of whom have given up looking for work.

There is growing concern that a significant and growing proportion of youth, even among those who would have found jobs in good times, are at high risk of prolonged unemployment or inactivity. This will likely hurt their entire careers and livelihoods.

Youth labour market difficulties are not confined to advanced countries but also affect most G20 emerging economies. While in some emerging economies the youth unemployment rate is very high, like in South Africa where one in two youth in the labour force is jobless, in others many youth are either inactive or struggle in precarious and informal jobs that do not provide social security coverage or career prospects.

In the short-term, says the OECD, governments should prioritise measures that target young people most at risk, notably those who leave school with few or no qualifications, or the children of immigrants. They should:

  • move towards early intervention programmes and effective job-search assistance for different groups of youth;
  • strengthen apprenticeship and other dual vocational training programmes for low-skilled youth;
  • encourage firms to hire youth by reducing social security contributions or introducing wage subsidies. These should target low-skilled youth and those who have completed their apprenticeships, as well as small and medium-sized firms;
  • reduce the gap between employment protection regulations on permanent employment and temporary contracts that can prevent entry-level jobs from acting as a stepping stone to more stable careers;
  • ensure that minimum wages are not set at levels that discourage employers from hiring inexperienced and low-skilled young people.


For more information, journalists should contact Stefano Scarpetta (tel. + 33 1 45 24 19 88) or Anne Sonnet (tel. + 33 1 45 24 91 69) of the OECD’s Employment division.


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